Tammi Regan, an avid horse enthusiast, first saw Hank the Horse 11 years ago standing alone in a muddy pasture in Kentucky. Forsaken by his owner, Hank was emaciated, filthy, and his basic needs unmet when he was just 3 years old.
Tammi, who lived in Doylestown, Pa., and was visiting family, rescued the Kentucky-born Tennessee Walking Horse and nursed him back to health, all the while harboring huge dreams that he would someday ring the bell for The Salvation Army on a grand stage.
“I’ve always believed in Hank, and I really saw something special in him even though his coat was dirty, and he was covered with mud,” Tammi recalls of that first meeting. “I saw hope in his eyes, and I knew he had love in his heart.
“I knew that he could change people because he changed me in one second. The moment I met Hank, I instantly fell in love with him, and I became an equestrian. I had no prior horse experience. Hank was the beginning of my horsemanship career.”
Tammi, who has now rescued 15 horses including Hank, promised to provide a “lifetime of love, comfort, and care” for Hank and any other horses in need. While training Hank, she made a promise to her father, Duane Regan, saying, “Dad, I promise you’ll see me and Hank ringing The Salvation Army kettle bells at Christmas time someday.”
Neither Tammi nor her father knew the power of that statement at the time. While Hank has rang the bell for The Salvation Army many times in the Lexington, Ky., area, this year fulfilled Tammi’s wildest dream. She transported Hank 1,500 miles, further than he has ever traveled, to ring the bell for The Salvation Army in New York City’s Times Square for the #GiantRedKettle reveal.
“It definitely was an epic journey,” Tammi says of the trip, which was about 13 hours each way.
Saddling up and hitting the trail
With a journalist in tow and the local news media following the trip each day, Tammi and Hank left Paris, Ky., at 10 a.m. on Nov. 27 and made it to Doylestown, a community Tammi once called home for 25 years.
After 13 hours in a horse trailer the day before, Hank spent Nov. 28 reconnecting with the Doylestown community. His first event was a meet and greet with 70 young students, who were introduced to small Salvation Army bells.
“We were hoping to educate and teach people about Hank’s duties as a volunteer bellringer and to inspire compassion and help people have a heart for giving to his kettle this year,” Tammi said of Hank’s national online Salvation Army kettle, which can be found here: http://salvationarmyny.org/hank
Hank also met with town officials in Doylestown, where he lived from his discovery in 2011 until Tammi moved her equine nonprofit, For Hank’s Sake, to Kentucky five years ago.
“They really welcomed Hank back home,” she said. “It really was a very friendly, warm, and festive event. That’s where Hank and I got our start. We were just beginners back then. It really warmed hearts for people. Doylestown was a nice layover point for us.”
Tammi and Hank left Doylestown at 1:30 a.m. on Nov. 29 bound for New York City and the #GiantRedKettle. Tammi wanted to get Hank there early so he could get acclimated and settled into the “electric, intense energy of the city.”
Hank, who required four special permits to be in Times Square, was a little restless at first, but once he calmed down and got used to the hubbub, “he was his normal gentle, friendly, and warm self,” Tammi said.
The event included Commissioner Kenneth G. Hodder, The Salvation Army’s national commander, other Salvation Army dignitaries, and the usual Christmas crowds that cram Times Square.
“It felt surreal while we were there even though it was very real,” Tammi said. “It still almost feels surreal. It was so magical. It had such a festive feel. I felt it was one of the great accomplishments of my life being there. It was very rewarding.”
Rock star in Times Square
The cell phones were out in force as Hank posed for countless selfies and videos with passersby who were not used to seeing a horse trained to ring a Salvation Army bell. The event also drew considerable media coverage, especially from television.
“I think it was a good shock factor, even for New Yorkers,” Tammi said with a laugh. “Everyone welcomed Hank. To be back with The Salvation Army and people I used to work with was heartwarming.”
Tammi’s Salvationist roots run deep as her parents were both active at the corps in Coshocton, Ohio. She was a junior soldier, Sunbeam, and Girl Guard, played the cornet in the corps band also was involved in timbrels. While in her 20s, Tammi worked a few summers at Camp Ladore in Pennsylvania for Commissioners G. Lorraine and William A. Bamford III, who lead the USA Eastern Territory.
“I stood many a kettle, ringing the bells with my father,” she said. “I really did make it my life’s purpose to train Hank to be a bell-ringer and ring in honor of my father.”
Hank, who is now 14 years old, has been a bell ringer for five years and raised $25,000 for The Salvation Army. In 2018, before his first bell-ringing experience, a local news reporter asked Tammi about her goals for Hank. Tammi said she wanted “to create a global movement of giving using the power of Hank and her other rescued horses.” The reporter said maybe Hank would go on to be one of The Salvation Army’s biggest fundraisers.
“I then made that my mission because the biggest stage of all that I could put Hank on was Times Square,” she said. “When I would dream, I thought of being part of a kettle kickoff and as the years rolled by, I wanted to involve the giant kettle in Times Square. I kept one-upping my goals.”
In late 2021, Hank, with a bell between his teeth and dressed in a top hat and Christmas attire, appeared in a two-page “Snapshot” spread in SACONNECTS magazine. Tammi then sent a synopsis of her plan to Joe Pritchard, the director of internal communications for the USA Eastern Territory. The Bamfords were soon involved, and Tammi secured a $5,000 pledge from friends David and Ruth Waronker if Hank could make it to Times Square.
“Since 2018, I’ve been dreaming and plotting and putting together this grand vision,” Tammi said.
Not just eating hay
It’s been a busy season for Hank, who recently reached the semifinals and finished 4th in America’s Favorite Pet Contest. The winner was a monkey with nine million TikTok followers.
Hank was a formidable entrant in the contest, given that For Hank’s Sake is now a well-known non-profit and Hank has helped raise nearly $50,000 for non-Salvation Army charitable organizations focused on such issues as youth literacy and food insecurity. Hank has put 4,500 miles on his horse trailer while traveling to help people.
His most recent donations were $10,000 for the PAWS Foundation and an expected $5,000 gift for a scholarship to the University of Kentucky’s equine/ag program. Tammi said she and Hank love “giving back to others, spreading kindness, offering hope, and helping the sick, elderly, homeless, and hungry,” as does The Salvation Army.
“We really get to help the discouraged find hope and the homeless find shelter and the hungry find a warm meal throughout the year and during the holiday season,” she said. “Hank’s accomplishments are vast. He is my partner in goodness. I’m happy with where Hank and I are and how far we’ve come.
“This New York trip was a pinnacle of achievement for both of us. What we’re going to do is continue our campaign on every level. We want to leverage all this goodness that has resulted from Hank’s trip to New York City to continue to serve others in unique ways.”
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